Deaf Education in America had to come a long way before it progressed to what it is today.
Deaf Education: A Brief History
In the early years, deaf students were frequently barred from public schools. Instead, parents would have to pay to send their children to private schools (which were often expensive). Poorer families, who couldn’t afford high tuition costs were, all too frequently, left without any options.
In the early 1800s, over 30 deaf schools opened across America allowing more and more students access to education. At the time most deaf schools based their curriculum on ASL (American Sign Language). Many teachers in the schools were themselves deaf and sign language was considered a beautiful art.
However, after the Civil War there was a major shift in schools, and “oral education” widely replaced ASL. Hearing citizens began to consider sign language to be a lower form of communication. Eventually it was decided that deaf children needed to fully integrate into society and abandon ASL altogether. This meant that deaf children attending oral education schools were forced to talk and frequently punished if caught using sign language. Students who failed to succeed in oral education programs were considered less intelligent and weren’t given a very bright future. It would take at least 100 years for views and teaching methods to finally change.
Today deaf children have many more opportunities than in years past. IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) mandates that no child be turned away from public schools because of a disability. Now deaf children are given an IEP (Individualized Education Program) which allows their education be tailored to meet their needs such as using sign language in the classroom. Parents can also choose from hundreds of Deaf schools if they feel that public schools aren’t adequate.
Additionally, sign language is once again being taught in public and private schools. Today’s most common teaching strategy is bilingual-bicultural (ASL/English) education. This means that ASL is taught first and spoken/written English is taught second. Thanks to the hard work of those in past years, deaf education is better than ever before.